Mixed reaction to SA’s power plan

Read time 4min 40sec
South African Wind Energy Association CEO Ntombifuthi Ntuli.
South African Wind Energy Association CEO Ntombifuthi Ntuli.

Reaction to government's blueprint electricity infrastructure development has been mixed, with some parties critical of the proposal and others cautiously optimistic.

Last week, mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe presented the latest Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP), which consists of additional capacity of 1 500MW coal, 2 500MW hydro, 6 000MW photovoltaic, 14 400MW wind, 2 088MW storage and 3 000MW gas.

Government said due to the expected decommissioning of approximately 24 100MW of coal power plants in the period beyond 2030 to 2050, “attention must be given to the path adopted to give effect to the energy mix and the preparation work necessary to execute the retirement and replacement of these plants”.

Turning the focus on renewables, Mantashe said renewable energy combined with storage presents an opportunity to produce distributed power closer to where demand is and to provide off-grid electricity to far-flung areas in South Africa.

In addition to the sun and wind resources, the country has some of the world’s largest high-grade resources in at least six key commodities that play a critical role in the global energy storage sector.

Vanadium, platinum, palladium, nickel, manganese, rare earths, copper and cobalt have potential to create new industries and localisation across the value chain.

“The IRP 2019 continues to make provision for significant rollout of renewable energy and storage. Eskom is already working on a utility scale battery storage, which will allow us to assess the benefits to our power system as we diversify the energy mix,” he said.

In some quarters, the announcement was criticised for not being ambitious enough. Environmental justice organisations condemned government’s plans for more coal.

The Life After Coal Campaign and Greenpeace Africa say they are appalled to note the new IRP forces in 1 500MW of dangerous, expensive and unnecessary new coal-based electricity: 750MW in 2023 and another 750MW in 2027.

“This IRP contradicts the urgent need for a just transition and is completely out of touch with reality. South Africa is already a global air pollution hotspot because of the country’s almost complete reliance on coal. The IRP’s irrational increase in the use of coal will only result in yet more deadly toxic air, while wasting precious water resources and pushing us closer to the brink of complete climate chaos,” says Happy Khambule, senior political advisor for Greenpeace Africa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa also weighed in on the discussion, saying the latest IRP “provides clarity and certainty on a crucial part of our development path”.

Ramaphosa, in his weekly newsletter, published every Monday, says the IRP envisages a move towards steadily reducing emissions through a greater uptake of renewables.

“Alongside this, we need to implement a ‘just transition’ to ensure communities and workers whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industries are not left behind.”

Mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe.
Mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe.

Pragmatic approach

The renewables energy sector took a more measured, cautiously optimistic view.

The solar photovoltaic industry believes the IRP provides potential developers, investors, operators and equipment manufacturers active in the sector with a moderate level of certainty that opportunities in the sector will materialise in the near to medium term.

South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) chairperson Wido Schnabel says: “We believe this pragmatic approach, if based on clear principles, will in time result in an even larger future allocation to cheaper and easier-to-deploy renewable energy projects.

“We will continue to engage the minister of DMRE to find mechanisms to smooth out the gaps presented in 2024, 2026 and 2027, where no solar PV is envisaged to be added to the grid.”

SAPVIA says it is pleased to see the allocation to embedded generation increased from 200MW to 500MW annually, which has the potential to unlock significant new investment.

SAPVIA COO Niveshen Govender adds: “The waived requirement for ministerial deviation on 1-10MW SSEG projects and the allocation to embedded generation based on short-term capacity and energy gaps are great portents for the sector’s future.

“We encourage the department to swiftly gazette an amendment to schedule two of the Electricity Regulation Act, thereby allowing for licensing exemptions for projects with a generating capacity less than 10MW.”

Similarly, the wind energy body gave the new plan the thumbs up, saying government listened to its input, “which is heartening considering the positive impact of a smooth procurement on job creation within our borders as well as driving investor confidence”.

South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) CEO Ntombifuthi Ntuli says: “We are happy with the wind energy’s apportionments in the energy mix, as we transition to a clean energy future. With the bulk of the increase coming from renewable sources, it is a promising sign for our country as it faces pressure to reduce its carbon emissions and provide cheaper power.

“With 14.4GW of wind having been allocated in the IRP, giving wind energy 18% of the total capacity allocation, the wind industry views the commitment to 1.6GW per annum as a positive step by government as this allocation will allow original equipment manufacturers and first tier suppliers to commit to local manufacturing of certain components, which contributes directly to job creation.”

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